How Long Does Gesso Take To Dry?

how long does it take gesso to dry

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How long it takes gesso to dry depends on many variables, but you can expect acrylic gesso to be touch-dry between 15 min and 1 hour and fully dried in about 24 hours.

When trying to estimate your dry time, there are a few things you need to consider…

By the end of this article, you’ll know what those are and how to handle them, so settle in.

But First, What Is Gesso?

Gesso started as a mixture of hot animal glue and gypsum, but today it mainly refers to acrylic gesso, a combination of an acrylic polymer medium and calcium carbonate (chalk). Gesso seals the canvas before painting begins to ensure the paint doesn’t sink into the fibers and adheres to the canvas over time.

There are 3 types of gesso:

  • Traditional gesso (also referred to as genuine)
  • Casein gesso
  • Acrylic gesso

what is gesso

Genuine gesso was the first, and it is used on wood panels, usually for tempera and encaustic paints. Acrylic gesso was made to work on all surfaces with all paints, and casein gesso perfectly balances the two. Each of these has a different application method and dry time.

What Affects The Drying Time of Gesso?

what affects the drying time of gesso
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Dry time depends on many factors, but the main ones to keep in mind are:

  • What kind of gesso you used (traditional, casein, or acrylic)
  • How much gesso you applied
  • Environment (Temperature, Humidity, and Air Circulation)
  • And finally, what kind of paint you’re using on top of the gesso

With me so far? Let’s get into the nitty-gritty.

Different Dry Times For Different Kinds Of Gesso

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You’ve now heard there are 3 main kinds of gesso: traditional, casein, and acrylic.

Casein gesso has the longest dry time, and acrylic has the shortest. Acrylic also has more options to choose from. These can affect the dry time a little and includes differences such as student or artist grade, the many brands to choose from, and different colors.

Traditional and Casein Gessos

traditional and casein gessos
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Traditional and casein gesso contains a mixture of animal hyde glue (usually rabbit-skin glue) and gypsum. Casein gesso has the added ingredient of emulsified oil, which allows it to be used on a flexible surface like a canvas. Traditional gesso is limited to a rigid surface like a wood panel.

Traditional gesso needs to be applied warm and requires at least 15 coats. However, each coat should be applied subsequently after the last waiting as little as 10-15 minutes for the first gesso layer to dry.

Because of the oil, casein gesso requires only 2 layers, but you must wait at least an hour for the first layer to dry before applying the second, and you’re limited to 2 layers a day.

Once you’ve finished applying layers, traditional gesso is ready for paint after 48 hours, and casein gesso needs to cure for 4-5 days before painting.

How Long Does Acrylic Gesso Take To Dry?

how long does it take acrylic gesso to dry
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An acrylic gesso usually dries to the touch between 15 min and 1 hour, depending on how thickly it is applied. It is thoroughly dried and ready for paint between 24 and 48 hours.

This gesso is ready to use right out of the package and brushes on easily with your tools of choice, such as a sponge, paintbrush, or palette knife.

It differs from traditional and casein gesso because it contains acrylic polymer and calcium carbonate. The acrylic polymer allows acrylic gesso to have a faster dry time because it doesn’t need as long to cure as a gesso mixture with hyde glue and/or oils.

The Many Different Types of Acrylic Gesso

Since acrylic is more popular, there are many types to choose from. Each brand can offer student-grade gesso or artist-grade gesso, and some go the extra mile to provide different colors.

types of acrylic gesso

Student grade gesso dries faster than artist grade because it is often thinner and not as high of a quality. Artist-grade gesso will have a thicker consistency, meaning better coverage.

You should save yourself the trouble and invest in artist-grade gesso. It will last longer in both use (how much you need to use) and longevity (how long your art will last).

Tinted gesso contains slightly different pigments, and the darker colors tend to be thicker, meaning a longer dry time. These factors affect how long the wet gesso takes to dry, but you’ll likely not notice the difference with acrylic.

Applying Gesso

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No matter what kind of gesso you’ve decided to use, there are 3 main ways of applying it to your painting surface.

Many artists like the center-out method, where you apply gesso to the center of the canvas and spread it out evenly to the corners. You can also apply gesso in the corners and spread it toward the center.

I prefer alternating directions in which you apply gesso going one direction, like top to bottom, and then for the next layer, you apply gesso in a different direction, like left to right. This ensures more even coverage.

For more details on these methods and in-depth instructions on using the different gessos, check this out.

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How Many Gesso Layers Do I Use?

The amount of layers or gesso coats you apply depends on what kind of gesso you’ve chosen and how thick or thin you apply each layer. Thinner layers may require more coats for adequate coverage, and thick gesso layers may require less.

Traditional rabbit-skin glue gesso requires you to apply at least 15 coats, no matter how thick or thin. Likewise, casein gesso recommends at least 2 coats. Remember, you can only apply 2 layers of casein gesso a day before adding more.

It’s recommended that you apply at least 2 coats of acrylic. You may add more if your layers are thin.

how many coats of gesso for acrylic painting
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How Long Should I Wait Before Adding Another Coat of Gesso?

Again, this will depend on the type you’ve chosen:

  • Traditional gesso is touch dry and ready for another coat in 10-15 minutes.
  • Casein gesso is touch dry in 1 hour, and you can only apply a maximum of 2 layers daily.
  • Acrylic is touch dry in 15 minutes to 1 hour, depending on how thick it’s applied. You can add another layer of gesso once touch dry.

How Long Before Gesso Is Completely Dry or Cured?

Acrylic gesso should be cured and ready to be painted within 24 to 48 hours. The same can be said for traditional gesso as well.

However, casein gesso must cure for 3 to 5 days before painting begins. This is because the oils it contains need to dry thoroughly before paint layers are added on top.

If you allow the oil to dry completely, this may save your painting. The oil can later seep into the top layers of paint or cause the paint to peel off the canvas.

how long does gesso take to dry on a canvas
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How Does Temperature Affect Dry Time?

Temperature plays a prominent role in how things dry and how long they take. A warmer room will allow acrylic to dry faster, but a casein gesso will dry faster in a colder environment because of the oils it contains.

If you attempt to dry gesso or paint containing oils with heat, the oils can seep out of the gesso or paint and cause a “sweating” effect, leaving beads of oil on top of the paint or gesso.

What Does Humidity Have To Do With Dry Time?

For those who may not know, humidity is the moisture content floating in the air. No matter the temperature, the moisture content can vary from place to place.

A higher moisture content in the air could slow the drying process of water-based gesso or paints, like acrylic gesso or acrylic paint. It’s best to find an area that is as dry as possible. For instance, don’t try to dry your painting in the bathroom where the steam from showers adds to the moisture content.

If your environment is particularly damp, you can use a dehumidifier. These don’t have to be expensive electronic ones, either. Some products simply use calcium chloride beads to trap the excess moisture in the air as a sachet or box.

what does humdity have to do with drying time

Since oil doesn’t mix with water, the moisture won’t affect an oil-based gesso or paint-like water-based gesso.

What About Air Circulation?

Air circulation refers to how the air moves in a given area. This will affect dry time because the motion of the air will increase evaporation by carrying away water molecules. Placing your surface in front of a fan will cause it to dry faster than putting it in a room without air circulation.

So how to get air circulation? Outside, air circulation is the wind.

You can use your AC unit,  heater, or fan inside. However, remember how the temperature or humidity caused by each option will impact the drying times.

What Are You Using Gesso For?

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Are you painting or drawing on top of the gesso? What did you apply the gesso to? This determines the dry time and how long you must wait before using the surface.

Let’s explore each below…

How Long Should Gesso Dry Before Acrylic Painting?

If you are using acrylic paint, then acrylic gesso is the best gesso for your project. Manufacturers recommend waiting 24-48 hours before you begin painting on top of it. However, if you’ve used thin gesso layers and it is already dry to the touch, an underpainting in acrylic paints should be safe to start.

The grade of paint you’ve chosen (student or artist grade) doesn’t make much difference when painting on top of an acrylic. This is especially true if you use an artist-grade gesso like Liquitex Professional Acrylic Gesso.

how long should gesso dry before acrylic painting

How Long Should Gesso Dry Before Oil Painting?

Oil painting can be done on top of any kind of gesso. However, you should wait for the gesso to fully cure before you begin painting with oils. This is because oil paints take a long time to dry in between layers, and it can act as a barrier for any moisture trying to escape the gesso as it dries.

Acrylic gesso will be safe for oil paints in 48 hours. Keep in mind that oil paints will sink into most acrylics, however, and cause your oil paints to look matte and dull. You can get around this by adding a varnish to the finished painting to bring the “pop” back into the colors.

how long should gesso dry before oil painting

A better way is to use an oil ground on top of a gesso. The layer of oil ground will stop the paint from sinking into the acrylic and keep the paint colors vibrant. If you’re interested, find out the best primer for oil paint.

Traditional gesso is safe for oil painting in 48 hours but has the same absorbent effect as acrylic. Additionally, casein gesso needs to cure for 5 days before painting begins. While casein gesso does contain oils, it will still absorb a little of the oil paint.

How Long Should I Wait Before Drawing On Gesso?

If you plan to use a drawing medium such as graphite, charcoal, or ink, then acrylic will be the better choice. It should be safe to draw on with a light hand for layers that were applied thinly and are already touch dry. However, if you’ve used thicker layers, It is best to wait the full 48 hours.

What Did You Apply Your Gesso To?

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You can apply gesso to many surfaces beyond a pre primed canvas or raw canvas. Porous surfaces such as ceramic, fabric, paper, and rigid surfaces like glass, metal, and wood are all fine surfaces for gesso.

Primed vs Unprimed Surfaces and Dry Time

A primed surface generally refers to a canvas or panel with a layer of gesso applied to it in manufacturing. Even though a primed canvas already has a gesso, adding more gesso to it before painting is recommended. This is because of the sealant applied after the initial gesso layer for commercially made canvases.

An unprimed surface can refer to a completely raw surface, unprimed canvas, or a surface that has been sealed with a sealant (like PVA), but may not have been primed with a primer. Either/or you can apply gesso to these.

Gesso will dry faster on surfaces already sealed with PVA or gesso but will take longer to dry on a natural canvas. This is because a natural canvas will initially soak up the first layer or two of gesso and requires more layers than if you apply gesso to a sealed surface.

Gesso On Porous Surfaces

Your usual porous surface will be either wood, paper, or cardboard. However, you can apply gesso to fabric, foam, plaster, and clay.

A porous surface will act like a sponge and soak up some of the gesso you’re applying. Wood, plaster, and clay will only soak up the first layer of gesso or two, so it will dry faster than other surfaces.

Paper and cardboard will soak up most of the gesso. Because these surfaces are so thin, applying thicker gesso will likely result in a warped and bubbling surface. If applying to these surfaces, use thicker paper or cardboard and a maximum of 2 very thin layers of gesso.

Fabric will act similarly to applying gesso to an untreated canvas and soak up the first coat of gesso. Foam has large pores and will take multiple layers to get a flat surface on. These subsequent layers will add to the dry time.

gesso on porous surfaces

Gesso On Rigid Surfaces

Wood is both a rigid and porous surface. The gesso will soak into the wood a little, but not nearly as much as the other porous surfaces. Applying a layer of gesso or two to wood smooths the wood grain and makes for an even painting surface.

Other rigid surfaces include plastic, glass, and metal. Gesso will have a tough time adhering to smooth surfaces. If you are determined to add a layer of gesso to plastic, create a textured surface for the gesso to stick to by sanding the surface first. Glass and metal come in many different textures, and you can choose a texture over a smoother surface.

In the case of metal, gesso will adhere better to a galvanized surface because of its texture. Be aware, though, that if the metal already has signs of oxidation (iron will rust, copper and gold will turn green), then the oxidation can seep through the gesso and into the painting. Regardless of oxidation, it is wise to seal the surface with a resin or glue before gessoing.

Is There Any Way To Speed Up The Dry Time?

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Traditional and acrylic gesso drying can be sped up with heat. Many people will use a hair dryer or heat gun to dry acrylic gesso faster.

However, do not attempt to dry casein gesso, oil primer, or oil paint with heat. In the best-case scenario, the oil will separate from its binding (the gesso or paint) and cause a sweating effect. This is when the oil beads or drips on top of the gesso or paint.

While it is very hard to combust emulsified oils, your worst-case scenario (supposing you insisted on continuing applying heat after the oils separated) risks charring or melting the paint and painting surface.

How To Make Make My Own Gesso?

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Homemade gesso should act similarly to acrylic. Because it’s a DIY gesso, the consistency will vary from person to person, but you should expect the gesso to be touch dry in an hour or so and ready to paint in about a day.

Acrylic is inexpensive enough that you shouldn’t need to make your own to save money. However, if you are in a pinch and need gesso now, then you can try this recipe:

  • 3 parts cornstarch
  • 3 parts baking soda
  • 1 part glue (alternatively Mod Podge)
  • 1 part acrylic paint (color of your choice, most choose white)
  • And 2-3 parts water

You’ll need to mix the dry ingredients first and ensure no lumps, then mix in the glue, paint, and water. More water will result in a thinner mixture, and less water will make it thicker.


Does Gesso Need 24 Hours To Dry?

Yes, acrylic gesso needs about 24-48 hours to dry completely.

Should I Sand Gesso Between Layers?

It’s not a requirement to sand gesso between layers, but it can be done to achieve an extremely smooth surface.

How Long Should Gesso Dry Before Sanding?

Wait until the gesso is fully dry before sanding it. For acrylic and traditional gesso, this means waiting 24-48 hours.

How Long Should Gesso Dry Before Painting?

It is best to wait until the gesso is fully dry before you begin painting on top of it. Acrylic and traditional gesso should be completely dry in 24-48 hours. If you use casein gesso, wait 3-5 days for it to dry.

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Now, Go Forth and Create!

You’ve made it to the end of the article, and now you fully understand how long it will take for gesso to dry. You’ve learned how the environment can affect dry time and gained insight into how long it will take for the gesso to dry on rigid or porous surfaces.

Additionally, you may have tried to make homemade gesso, and you may have tested how a hair dryer or heat gun speeds up the dry time of acrylic gesso.

While you wait for your gesso to dry, learn how to evolve your painting skills with this mini-course on oil painting for beginners. This course will show you the basics of using value and depth to make your paintings look more realistic.

Did you try the homemade gesso recipe? How did it go? Are there any more questions about how long gesso takes to dry? Tell us all about it!


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